Government Re-Visiting Low-Ball BP Flow Estimates? NOAA Way!


Let’s imagine we’re PR agents representing a totally discredited Big Oil company. We need media play for spinning a wacky idea that those early, laughably low, oil-spill estimates were indeed credible. We’ll need to borrow some credibility from somewhere – so with billions of dollars at stake just how might we do that?

Well, how about getting together with the “vast majority of the oil is gone” folks over at NOAA?

Reporter David Hammer at the Times-Picayune has, in effect, written a story that provides another glimpse at the looming BP legal defense case. Mr. Hammer begins by reminding us of how bad it was back on May 27 when flow estimates were being re-adjusted on a regular basis: “…from 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil were spilling each day, dwarfing previous estimates of 1,000 to 5,000 daily barrels.”

You may recall that was when U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) emerged as a champion of the Gulf, accusing BP officials of “low-balling” the size of their accident, and reminding us that every barrel spilled increases how much BP could be fined by the government. Later on, Mr. Hammer reports, Rep. Markey noted that “It took over 100 days and the pressure of flow-rate calculations by independent scientists using high-definition undersea video to tell the world what BP most likely suspected from the start.”

I said back then – and say again now – that BP controlled, and still effectively controls, access to the spill video for a reason. The company has had plenty of time to figure out which portions of video support its view and which ones can be lost or erased by “accident.” But if you’re BP, how do you get the media to re-visit the issue of oil-flow estimates without appearing too obvious?

Mr. Hammer quotes Bill Lehr, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a member of the government’s Flow Rate Technical Group. He says “… more information is needed to evaluate the issues raised by BP, as well as more time…I have asked the BP lead flow expert to provide any additional scientific data or analysis that BP believes is relevant to this question.”

You have to wonder if Mr. Lehr has made a similar request of independent researchers that called into question the accuracy of the early estimates? Or if NOAA has taken steps to address concerns from many experts over access to the full video record? If you’re into collecting dots for later connecting, add this one to the mix.

The TP story is here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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